Question

Dear Father,

Let me ask you one final question.

Could you please explain a passage from the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament? In the second revelation God says to Moses: “I will show favors to whom I will, I who grant mercy to whom I will.” (Ex 33:19).

My point is: does God still offer everyone the possibility of receiving his infinite Mercy, and when he does not want to give it, is it because men’s hearts hardened? Does it mean that, if a person does not show any sign of repentance, therefore God cannot give him mercy and forgiveness?

I imagine that God offers endless mercy for those who want it. God always wants to be merciful. Then people can eventually reject it. Is this statement correct?

Thank you and greetings.


The priests answers

Dear,

1. Your interpretation is correct and  is, ultimately, the same one given by St. Thomas Aquinas.

We must recognize that this way of speaking surprises us because it seems that God plays favorites and ultimately provides an unequal treatment.

2. The same affirmation was also reused by Saint Paul in Rm 9.

In order to understand it, it must be readed within the whole discourse by St. Paul: “What then are we to say? Is there injustice on the part of God? Of course not! For he says to Moses: “I will show mercy to whom I will, I will take pity on whom I will.” So it depends not upon a person’s will or exertion, but upon God, who shows mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “This is why I have raised you up, to show my power through you that my name may be proclaimed throughout the earth. Consequently, he has mercy upon whom he wills, and he hardens whom he wills.” (Rom 9: 14-18).

3. St. Thomas presents two explanations for this statement.

The first explanation resumes the Pelagian heresy’s interpretation, according to which God would show mercy to those who deserve it for previous merits.

St. Thomas  immediately rejects this interpretation, identifying a disproportion: through human works, men would deserve supernatural and divine goods. 

4. The second explanation seems to be right, but once again St. Thomas discards it: “But there is another way in which one is considered worthy of mercy, not on account of merits preceding grace, but on account of merits subsequent to grace; for example, if God gives a person grace and he planned from eternity to give him that grace which he foresaw would be used well.”

“But it seems that not even this is a suitable explanation. (…). Furthermore, God’s benefits extend not only to the infusion of grace, by which a man is made righteous, but also to its use, just as in natural things God not only causes their forms but also all the movements and activities of those forms, (…)” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Romans, Emmaus Academic, 772).  

For the same reason it is said in Is 26:12: “O Lord, you mete out peace to us, for it is you who have accomplished all we have done.”

5. In order to understand this statement it is necessary to remember that everything that concerns the grace of God and the future life of Paradise does not fall within the sphere of distributive justice, but is part of what is freely given, by grace and mercy.

St. Thomas explains everything with an example: if we meet two poor people on the street and we give everything we have to one while nothing to the other, we can say that we used mercy to the first but we did no injustice to the second.

6. However, as far as it can sound as a good argument, we might object that it would have been nicer to give a little to one person and a little to the other.

Although St. Thomas does not reject this argument in general terms, he later explains what he means.

Commenting on the words: “Consequently, he has mercy upon whom he wills, and he hardens whom he wills” he writes: “However, he stirs them to good and to evil in different ways: for he inclines men’s wills to good directly as the author of these good deeds; but he said to incline or stir up men to evil as an occasional cause, namely, inasmuch as God puts before a person, either in him or outside of him something which of itself is conductive to good but which through his own malice he uses for evil: (…)” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Romans, Emmaus Academic, 781).

Therefore, God uses mercy to everyone, but some people abuse his mercy to do evil.

7. Saint Thomas recalls elsewhere what Psalm 145.9 says: “The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.”

The Latin text of the last part of this verse is the following: miserationes Domini super omnia opera eius”.

It means that God guides the actions of all men according to mercy, even those of the wicked, for he inclines them inwardly or outwardly to good.

But they make bad use of his mercy, by rejecting it.

Indeed, perverting the help given by the Lord.

I wish you all the best, I pray for you and I bless you.

Father Angelo

original post is available in Italian